Daoist Pantheon entitled Xing Yuan [A Garden Visit].

YU Zhen (1797].)


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Large watercolour on silk depicting 151 Buddhist and Daoist immortals, popular Chinese gods, philosophers, kings, generals and their attendants in a garden/paradise setting. Costumes heightened in gold. Painting measuring ca. 127x212cm. Early 20th century wooden frame measuring 138x230cm. Minor old wear, water-stains, creases and repairs, but overall still in very good condition. Inscribed and dated: Jiaqing 2 [i.e. 

This extraordinary Daoist Pantheon is divided into three realms: Many of the figures in the upper heavenly realm are associated with star constellations. At the very top left stands Chang-e (goddess of the moon) accompanied a servant holding a fan decorated with her symbol, the rabbit (according to legend the rabbit pounds the elixir of immortals on the moon); she is mirrored in the top right corner of heaven by Hou-yi who is associated with the sun. His servant carries a fan decorated with a rooster (the rooster welcomes the sun in the morning). Below her sits Doufu (the Father of the Great Chariot, attrib.) and on his right the Buddha Shakyamuni with two attendants. The top centre is dominated by Houtu Huangdi (the Empress Queen of the Earth), one of the highest in the Daoist pantheon; she is attended by two figures representing earth (trigram Kun) and fire (trigram Li). To her right sits Nanji Changshen Dadi (Great Emperor of the South Pole star and Long Life) another primary Daoist deity.

In the second tier of the heavenly realm we find the eight-armed Mother of the Great Chariot (Doumu) who is associated with the seven stars of the ‘Big Dipper’ and thus followed by her seven sons. Her chariot is drawn by eight wild boars and she is worshipped to her right by a group of five deities called Wufang Shangdi, who are associated with the five planets. Interspersed in the clouds are a number of protective gods like Kuixing, the demon-like figure wielding a brush (he is associated with Imperial examinations as well as ‘Big Dipper’), Miji Jingang (wielding a diamond club), Wang Ling Guan (the three-eyed Spirit Official) and on the very right standing on clouds is the youthful Wei Tuo (Protector in military armour).

In the third row of the heavenly realm are two figures associated with weather: In the very left is Dianmu (the mother of lightening) and to her left riding on a dragon is the three-eyed Haoweng (the Thunder Master). Both figures are accompanied by various demonic figures like Leigong, (with bat wings and bird’s beak).  In the centre is a group of four figures surrounding Wen Chang, the God of literature, seated on a white donkey. Behind him stands his assistant Zhuyi (Red Robe, holding books) and Guixing (attrib.), carrying scrolls on his back. Further right, on a rocky outcrop, sits the Bodhisattva of Mercy (Guanyin) being worshipped by a figure standing on a floating shell (Guanyin is the patron of mariners). Behind her are the Fathers of Daoism: Laozi (sitting on the back of a bull with a herdsman behind), Zhuangzi (with an attendant holding books), and Liezi (attrib., holding a ruyi sceptre). In the very right margin sits the Dizang Pusa wearing a crown with an acolyte holding a multi-ringed staff, a scholar and a snow lion.

In the middle realm of the scroll we find (from the left) the Eight Immortals all standing on or ascending a platform: He Xiangu (female figure in front of a phoenix holding a lotus flower), Han Xiangzi (flute-player), Zhang Guo (carrying a fish drum), Zongli Quan (exposed belly, holding a fan), Lü Dongbin (with flywhisk & sword), Lan Zaihe (a florist), Cao Guojiu (holding a jade tablet), and Li Tieguai (with a calabash bottle). Another female figure further to the left of He Xiangu may be Taishan Shengmu, the goddess of Mount Tai who is the protector of women and children. To her right on the same platform are the three gods of Well-being: Fuxing (prosperity), Luxing (success), and Shouxing (long life).

On the right-hand side below Laozi are two gods in white robes who may represent Diguan (Earth God) & Shuiguan (Water God). The figure next to them is Taiyi Jiuku Tianzun (the benevolent deity of salvation, who is associated with the green lion below to his left). Seated to his right of the imposing red-faced, triple-eyed Sui-ren (the fire-maker, holding a fire-wheel in his hand). Next to him is Shen-nong (divine farmer, clad in leaves), and Zhenwu (the Perfect Warrior), watching a turtle entwined by a snake, together with two attendants - one holding a flag, the other carrying a sword. They all surround a god dressed in pink robed who may be Chenghuang (City God). Below them inside a pavilion is Guan Yu (seated), Zhou Cang (carrying a halberd), and Guan Ping (holding a white bag), three military characters from the ‘Romance of the three Kingdoms’ (Sanguo Yanyi). Seated on the river-bank to the left is the Lord of the River (Hebo Jiangjun) dressed as a general and holding a sword. He is the water god of the Yellow River. In another pavilion to the right stand six ladies who may either represent famous female poets or the six Jade maidens. Most of them appear to be looking towards Erlang Shen, sitting on the shore, his disciple holding a three-pointed, double-edged lance and his faithful white dog. Erlang was a protector from floods. Inside another pavilion to the left of Zhang Xian sits Yan Wang, the ruler of the underworld, assisted by the green figure of Heibai Wuchang. They are being watched by the twins Hehe Erxian, two immortals of Harmony and Union. Standing on a bridge to their right is Zhang Xian, a famous archer who protects children by using a pebble bow. Further on the right are the ’Four Sages of Mount Shang’ playing a game of Weiqi. Below them is a lonely figure of a green-clad official looking into the water. This may well be the famous poet Qu Yuan contemplating suicide.

In the bottom part of the painting are a number of officials and soldiers. Prominent amongst them is a group of five generals and two civilians having a banquet. They are known as the Five Tiger Generals, namely Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Huang Zhong, and Ma Chao. The man asleep appears to be Zhuge Liang. These are also figures in the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ (Sanguo Yanyi). Standing on a bridge in the centre is an Emperor surrounded by officials. In the bottom centre of the painting is the dynamic figure of Zhong Kui fighting a bat with a sword. He is regarded as a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings. Towards the bottom right hand corner are a group of six figures who appear to be related to health and childbirth: The white figure waving a flag could be Nezha (also known as the Third Lotus Prince). The man standing to the very right holding a round eye emblem is Yan Guang. Next to him stands Dou shen, the god of smallpox with red spots on his face and below them is Songzi niang-niang, who bestows children.

During the Qing dynasty depictions of the Daoist or Buddhist pantheons did not necessarily follow a standard pattern but allowed for considerable variations in accordance with the wishes and religious inclinations of the client. In China there is a large corpus of Immortals to choose from: The Ming dynasty illustrated collection of biographies entitled “Lie xian quan zhuan” (1598) by Wang Shizhen (1526-1590) contains some 580 entries. This fine and detailed painting documents Chinese religious beliefs in the late 18thcentury and it reveals the aspirations, hopes and fears of a wealthy family. It is an extremely rare survival. 

The scroll was painted by the Daoist monk Yu Zhen (dates unknown) at a temple in the Yandang mountains - a famous scenic area in southeast Zhejiang Province. The inscription in the left bottom corner reads as follows: “In the first ten days of the sevenths lunar month in the autumn of the second year of the Jiaqing reign [1797], Yu Zhen, the disciple at Yandang [mountain], respectfully painted this, having washed his hands [meaning: cleansed himself]”.

Provenance: From a Private European collection, purchased at WM. Williams, 27A Kensington Church Street, London 1956. Together with the original receipts. (Einar Telander, Bergsvägen 47, 181 31 Lidingö, Sweden)

Stock Code: 243756

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